Cliff Ostrowski grabbed a piece of thinly-sliced, marinated beef with his chopsticks and carefully placed it on a black stone.
The meat immediately started sizzling, filling the air with the aroma from the Korean marinade. Less than a minute later, the tender meat was ready to be eaten, thanks to the Japanese "Hot Stone" style of cooking.
"You actually cook the beef right on the rock," said Ostrowski, co-owner of the new Silk Asian Tavern, located at 4 E. Phillip Road in Vernon Hills.
Formerly the home of Silk Mandarin, the site is now an upscale restaurant with Pan-Asian cuisine. Ostrowski owns the restaurant with his brother-in-law, Bo Wungwattana, who serves as the executive chef. Both Ostrowski and Wungwattana have served as chefs at various locations in Chicago.
Ostrowski and Wungwattana took over the restaurant in May, aiming to bring an upscale Pan-Asian experience to the suburbs. Silk Mandarin had called Vernon Hills home for more than 20 years and had already built a loyal following.
"We had been looking for a place to transform," said Ostrowski.
"I've been working under a lot of people for a long time. I just felt that I was doing all of this hard work for them - why not do it for myself," said Wungwattana.
The interior has been completely renovated to make use of the entire restaurant. In the past, customers only sat in about half of the dining space. Now, there's a large bar area that includes a window where customers can get a view of the chefs working in the kitchen.
The centerpiece of the dining area is a sushi/robatayaki bar that creates what Ostrowski calls a "dueling kitchen" concept.
Customers can sit at—or just order items from—the sushi/robatayaki bar. Robatayaki, Ostrowski said, is like hibachi cooking, where skewers of meat are cooked over an open flame. Customers can order robatayaki items by the piece, including the popular Pork Belly that's topped with a sweet and sour glaze. It's served over a watermelon-avacado salad.
"So now you have an option kitchen that you can sit around, with robatayaki on one side and sushi on the other," said Ostrowski. "The whole restaurant is geared around an experience."
Silk Asian Tavern's menu aims to satisfy the Silk Mandarin's loyal customers while creating "contemporary food with traditional flavors." There are elements of Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean and Vietnamese cuisine at Silk Asian.
"It's one-stop shopping with things that are done right," said Ostrowski.
Some of the most popular items, he said, include the aforementioned Hot Stone, the Pork Belly Robatayaki and Chen Du Chicken. The latter is a Szechuan-style preparation of crispy, diced chicken, dried red chilies and Szechuan peppercorn oil. The Honey Peach Shrimp is also popular, with its crispy shrimp tossed in a honey-poppy seed sauce.
Ostrowski said customers also like the Pho soup, with noodles, sliced beef and meatballs. It's served with a variety of toppings, including hoisin sauce, lime, jalapeno and thai basil.
The sushi, he added, is excellent.
"It added another dimension to the restaurant," said Ostrowski. While Silk Asian doesn't have the same variety of sushi rolls as other restaurants, "our rolls are very creative. We focus more on quality than quantity."
So far, customers are happy, Ostrowski said.
"I enjoy the reaction that I get," he said. The first few months of being the Silk Asian Tavern, he said, have "really been about gaining people's confidence that we could be as good as it was before."
It's been a whirlwind, Ostrowski said, with revamping the restaurant while it was open.
"But it's been cool to watch it transform," he said.
Grand Opening Festivities
Silk Asian Tavern will hold its official ribbon-cutting ceremony at 4 p.m. Nov. 12, followed by a GLMV Chamber of Commerce event.
Each day from Nov. 12-14, the restaurant will enjoy drink specials and free samples of appetizers.
The grand opening festivities will culminate with a special event from 3 to 8 p.m. Nov. 15. For $20, guests can enjoy appetizers, desserts and signature food items. Ostrowski said sake girls will hand out sake, and there will also be a cash bar. Lake County radio station WXLC (102.3) will broadcast live from 3 to 7 p.m. A portion of the $20 entry fee will be donated to Advocate Condell Medical Center's Radiation Oncology Services.
Silk Asian Tavern, accessible from both Phillip Road and Townline Road, is open for lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m,, and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. For more information call (847) 680-1760, or visit www.silkasiantavern.com.